In his new book, The Land Before Avocado, Richard Glover makes it his mission to shock Australian millennials. He explores the foreign world of the not-far-gone past of the 1960s and 1970s. These journeys into a lost Australia have captivated both the Aussies who lived through it, and those who can’t quite believe it.
With a new book out, The Land Before Avocado, I’ve been visiting bookshops, speaking at libraries and being interviewed for podcasts – often by people much, much younger than me. It’s an opportunity to play a new game I’ve developed. It’s called Let’s Shock a Millennial. I simply describe the Australia of my childhood and wait for the look of surprise, disbelief or, occasionally, sympathy.
It’s a marvellous feeling. Millennials normally treat Baby Boomers with contempt. We had it easy. Houses were cheap. You could secure a job for life.
Some of this is true, but it’s not the whole picture. And so, armed with stories from my book, I begin the task of Shocking a Millennial.
I want to finally receive the acknowledgement – and even praise – I believe my generation deserves.
It’s hard to know where to start: with the sexism, racism, homophobia, or just the cars that always broke down?
Sometimes, I start with the sexism. I tell them that married women needed the signed permission of their husbands before leaving the country, a law in place until the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984.
Or I describe how drink-driving was commonplace. Well, more than commonplace, in a way, it was compulsory, with Sunday drinks available in most of Australia to ‘bona fide travellers’. And so people from, say, Tamworth would drive up the hill to Armidale, drink for three hours, and then drive home, swerving to avoid the people from Armidale who were conducting the whole operation in reverse.
Or I might leap into the details of day-to-day life. Compulsory school milk – served curdled after three hours left out in the sun. Cigarettes being smoked everywhere – in planes, buses, even hospital wards. The peeling skin after a day on the beach in the days before Slip-Slop-Slap. Or the lack of any proper home-entertainment system – well, other than the backyard incinerator.
The best part of playing Let’s Shock a Millennial is savouring the look of incredulity that creeps across the face of my interlocuter. ‘That’s rubbish,’ they say. ‘That cannot be true.’
Younger women are particularly easy to shock. I tell them how, reading The Australian Women’s Weekly of the early ’70s, it is difficult to discover the first name of any married woman. Even quite famous women, such as Sonia McMahon, wife of the prime minister, is always described as ‘Mrs William McMahon’. In the social pages, she is photographed alongside other married women, with names like ‘Mrs Burt Carruthers’ or ‘Mrs Barry Smith’.
‘Really?’ they say. ‘Why would women want to be called Burt, Barry and Bill?’
The Land Before Avocado is, in a way, a travel book. It’s a journey into a lost and forgotten Australia. I want to give people a sense of what it was really like – with all its problems and occasional glories. I want readers to also understand the amazing transformation that’s been achieved in Australia – and give a little credit to the generation which lived through, and brought about, those changes.
I could have called the book, The Land Before Married Women Had Credit Cards. Or The Land Before Proper Coffee. Or even The Land Before Vibrators (it was Don Chipp who, in 1972, allowed their importation).
Still, in terms of shocking a Millennial, what could be better than this: for much of time, you couldn’t get avocado on toast.
The Land Before Avocado by Richard Glover
The new book from the bestselling author of Flesh Wounds. A funny and frank look at the way Australia used to be – and just how far we have come.
There’s plenty of nostalgia right now for the Australia of the past, but what was it really like?
In The Land Before Avocado, Richard Glover takes a journey to an almost unrecognisable Australia. It’s a vivid portrait of a quite peculiar land: a place that is scary and weird, dangerous and incomprehensible, and, now and then, surprisingly appealing.
It’s the Australia of his childhood. The Australia of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Let’s break the news now: they didn’t have avocado.
Posted on December 19, 2018 by Larissa